MLK, Jr.’s Freedom Mural
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Mural is in Washington D.C.’s National Library of Congress. Don Miller’s magnum opus documents Dr. King’s life and work. The iconic Civil Rights piece was unveiled on January 15, 1986, the first observance of MLK’s birthday as a national holiday.
MLK’s Civil Rights Movement is captured in a moving panel with historical figures. MLK Jr.’s family including his grandmother and siblings belonged to the Ebenezer Baptist Church where his father, Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. was a pastor. Before his calling to pastor Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, MLK Jr. attended Morehouse College at 15 years old to receive a B.A. in Sociology. There, MLK was spiritually mentored by the Reverend Benjamin E. Mays and inspired by Gandhi.
Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy was Reverend MLK, Jr.’s right hand man. The two ministers were triggered by Rosa Park’s arrest on the Cleveland Ave bus and organized the Montgomery boycott. Rev. Abernathy stayed by Dr. King’s side; together they were arrested 17 times and united they established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
Andrew Young and Dorothy Cotton were also close confidantes to Rev. MLK, Jr. SCLC’s Executive Director, Andrew Young helped draw up the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Dorothy Cotton directed the workshops to educate and encourage citizens in registering to vote.
Also featured in the mural is Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker. Before resigning as the first Executive Director of SCLC, Rev. Walker circulated the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Another prominent activist in the movement was Rev. C.T. Vivian who worked on the executive staff to get the Civil Bill and Voting Rights Act passed.
Now, Rev. MLK, Jr. saw the injustice against colored folk and wanted a safer country for everyone including his wife and four children. Protesters were jailed and hosed down. But perhaps the most heartbreaking casualties were the four girls murdered in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham, Alabama: (from left to right, and top to bottom) Addie Mae Collins (14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14), and Cynthia Wesley (14).
Rev. MLK, Jr. 's work accomplished so much, from the SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket to the fight for voter registration. He kept his beliefs in nonviolence. At the Anti-war conference he voiced his opposition to the Vietnam War with anxiety and sorrow. His feats were awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize of 1964.
That summer, the movement endured more fatalities. A trio of civil rights activists had been investigating the burning of Mt. Zion Church. The three young men, Michael Schwener, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were murdered. They were not the first victims. Many civil rights workers were killed at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan and even some law officers. Local authorities and all-white juries failed and refused to convict attackers. But the federal government made moves in the first successful prosecution of a civil rights case in Mississippi. Dr. King commended the FBI for its arrests in connection with the slayings.
Rev. MLK, Jr.’s voice spoke to the hearts of many people who endured injustice. In his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln memorial he humbled himself, confessing that he was not certain that he would live to see the day that everyone would be treated equal. But it was certain that he would not give up the fight. And he took this to his grave. The Memphis Sanitation workers’ strike was the last march that led to Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.
Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope
His effort to dedicate his life in the service of humanity is shown appreciation in Washington D.C. 's Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Here, the statue of Rev. MLK, Jr. carved into a stone cut out of a boulder represents his quoted words, “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” Dr. King refers to the biblical metaphor known as Samuel’s Ebenezer. He not only studied and shared his faith, he demonstrated it with every step he took. He knew that the measure of a man was where he stood in times of difficulty. For Dr. King, this was firm in the belief that violence begets violence and only light can drive out darkness.
This message that love is the answer to our problems is still an inspiration decades after Rev. MLK’s death. Soon to come is the MLK and Coretta Scott King Memorial on Boston Common. “The Embrace” is going to be a mirror-finished bronze sculpture of intertwined arms. It’s inspired by the iconic photograph of the two Kings embracing after MLK received the Nobel Peace Prize. The photo captures the support that Coretta had for her husband. It is a fact that she carried his legacy days after his death in a final march in Memphis which gave victory to the Sanitation workers. But, Coretta was much more than Dr. King’s wife.
Before meeting Martin, Coretta advocated for World Peace overseas. The artwork is representative of the core message from both Kings. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached on the value of love. So, by focusing on that single gesture of love the sculpture aims to shift attention from the heroic figure to the source of strength, love itself.
The abstract art is designed to encourage viewers to see the action, rather than the person. The artist, Hank Willis Thomas states, ‘ “The Embrace” is overwhelmingly simple and accessible: it is about what we share, not what sets us apart.” Spectators will be given the opportunity to reflect on their roles in society when looking at the mirror-finished embrace. The construction will be completed between March and September of this year.